A film by Edet Belzberg
Children Undergound was nominated for the Best Documentary Academy Award, and the subject of the film sounded fascinating. The former dictator of Romania, Nicolei Ceaucescu, outlawed the use of contraceptives and abortions in order to increase Romania s workforce. This led to 20,000 children on the street as countless families were unable to cope, and afford the unplanned children. That is the premise of the film, as presented by the text that is on screen before the documentary actually begins, and it sounds like this will be a very interesting documentary. Unfortunately, that s not the movie we see.
The movie we get follows five Romanian kids (with ages ranging from 8 through the teenage years) as they live on the streets. We follow their lives, seeing where the sleep, how they get by, what they eat, where they go, and what they do. We watch them exist in a street gang which gives them a sense of family, and a sense of security and protection. We watch as nearly every kid huffs paint to get high, and we see some struggle to improve themselves and get off the street, despite the feeling that they are better off on the street than they are at home.
One could make the case that these kids living on the street is a direct result of Ceaucescu s policy regarding contraceptives and abortion and that these kids are representative of the 20,000 street children, and perhaps that is true. The problem is that the documentary does not try to make that case. The only connection with Ceaucescu s policy is the text that preceded the film telling us that 20,000 kids are on the street because of the contraceptive policy. The film itself presents us with a different reality. With one exception, these kids are not orphans, they are runaways. One kid in particular had horrible parents, but that does not make him a victim of Ceaucescu s policy. It just means that he felt that running away from home and living on the streets of Bucharest was a better alternative to living at home.
That is the major flaw of the movie. The basic theme presented had little to do with the documentary itself. The only time there is any connection to the presented theme was very, very late in the movie when one of the parents says that she was better off under Ceaucescu . That s it. That is the entire connection to the contraception policy.
With that said, this is a powerful look into the lives of Bucharest s street children. They live very rough lives and the addiction to huffing paint and drugs makes it even more difficult for them to ever really get off the street. If this was the theme of the film and this is what was presented up front, perhaps the film would have been stronger. Unfortunately we are presented with one idea for the documentary and given another in the film itself.
Children Underground had the potential to be an excellent documentary. Besides the above stated complaint about the presentation of the topic, there is an issue with the structure of the film. Meaning, there is none. The documentary goes from subject to subject and place to place without any sort of purpose, or at least none that I could figure out. I know this is a foreign film, and perhaps the filmmaker had a different idea of what a documentary could and should be, but it was almost completely devoid of narration and just a little bit of narration could have given the film some structure. Otherwise, I just had a difficult time figuring out exactly what was going on and when scenes were happening in relation to the previous scene. There was a certain amount of power in the images on screen, but there was really nothing connecting them to a larger vision of the film. Children Underground should have been a great documentary, but it turned out to be disappointing.